Is Selling Vaccine Priority Legal? Over 5 million Americans have received their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine as of early January 2021. But with hundreds of millions more still awaiting inoculation, demand remains high and supply low as rollout lags in many regions. Are hospitals legally required to distribute COVID-19 vaccines in a certain priority order? Can healthcare facilities decide to sell the vaccines for a profit? Professor Dorit Reiss, leading vaccine law scholar, discusses the legal and ethical requirements for distributing vaccines.
Dorit Reiss is Professor of Law and the James Edgar Hervey '50 Chair of Litigation at UC Hastings College of the Law.
Joel Cohen (Host): Hello, and welcome to Talks On Law. I'm Joel Cohen. Today we're talking about the COVID-19 vaccine and the laws around it. We're getting the update from Professor Dorit Reiss of UC Hastings. Professor, welcome to Talks On Law.
Dorit Reiss (Prof. Reiss): Thank you for having me again.
Host: It's a real pleasure, and so much has changed even in the last weeks since we spoke. We do have a limited supply as of now of the vaccine. This brings up supply and demand issues. Are there legal questions? Are there legal responsibilities that the Pharma companies or the hospitals have to distribute those vaccines appropriately?
Is Selling Vaccine Priority Legal?
Prof Reiss: So this issue is a lot less legal and a lot more ethical. There isn't a legal provision for how to distribute the vaccine, aside from the fact that if you try for example to distribute it based on race you may run into legal issues. But the question is mostly an ethical question. What's the correct way to allocate it? And we've had two expert committees provide input on this. The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine put together a panel that made an initial recommendation earlier. And the Advisory Committee of Immunization Practices came up with its own allocation scheme, and that's what states are encouraged to follow, though not all of them are following it.
Host: So if a hospital decides hey we're going to make the most money we can and sell it to the highest bidder, it's not necessarily a crime.
Prof Reiss: No, it's not. It’s legal, but remember that so these vaccines are free. Right now, the government is giving them for free. I haven't seen the specific contract, but I would suspect there are limits on reselling them at a profit.